By Joshua Maloni
A smaller but peppier Artpark crowd was treated to the most fun concert of the 2019 “Tuesdays in the Park” concert series this week. Sugar Ray, Better Than Ezra and Emerson Hart of Tonic had people on their feet, singing and dancing along to some of the 1990’s biggest hits.
Shortly after 6 p.m., Hart took the stage for a solo set. His half-dozen songs included Tonic staples “Open Up Your Eyes,” “You Wanted More” and “If You Could Only See,” as well as "Lucky One," a new track from his forthcoming album, “32,000 Days.” At one point, Hart asked a ticketholder, “Am I not soft-rocking your face off!?!”
Kevin Griffin and Better Than Ezra followed, and offered an hour-long set filled with their own songs – namely chart-toppers “King of New Orleans,” “Extraordinary,” “Lifetime,” “Good,” “Desperately Wanting” and “Juicy,” plus recent release “Crazy Lucky” – and several mash-ups. Crowd members heard a “Sublime taster” or a “Sublime charcuterie,” as Griffin called it; a spot-on Dave Matthews impression; and bits of Rush and The Rolling Stones.
Mark McGrath and Sugar Ray headlined, and performed their biggest ’90s hits: “Words to Me,” “Someday” and “When It’s Over.”
The frontman repeatedly expressed genuine gratitude for a career now in its fourth decade. His anecdotes, on the other hand, seemed rehearsed – but were still funny. The audience was clearly amused.
McGrath said he and his band members hoped to become the next Guns N’ Roses, but only knew two guitar chords. He explained some people would recognize him for his (hardly) award-winning performances in the “Sharknado” series and last year’s “Celebrity Big Brother.”
Lunch at Apple Granny – or “Granny Apples” as McGrath called it – was a highlight of the singer’s time in Lewiston. He lauded village residents for their hospitality.
McGrath said he found similar friendliness on a “One-Hit Wonder” cruise early on with Sugar Ray. He recalled asking longtime guitarist Rodney Sheppard how they could get off the ship – what it would take to find another hit. Sheppard began to play “Every Morning.”
Following some more stories – and thanks to audience member Chelsea for her tears-inducing tweets – McGrath introduced new songs “Make It Easy” and “Highest Tree” from the band’s July 26-releasing album “Little Yachty.”
The end of the set included “Mean Machine,” plus covers of “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes and “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones.
With the audience dancing up a storm, Sugar Ray concluded with “Fly,” the 1997 song that launched the group into fame and fortune.
This was an enjoyable concert, with each set joyfully ramping up the ’90s nostalgia.
Some might’ve glossed over the show, having seen BTE last summer, not knowing a solo Hart, or just expecting Sugar Ray to be lackluster (thanks, in part, to McGrath’s self-deprecation). In fact, it was a solid night of music and just plain fun to watch.
BETTER THAN EZRA